While driving under the influence (DUI) carries severe penalties in New Jersey, the consequences of a DUI arrest are even greater if you caused an accident while driving drunk. Instead of a traffic violation, you can be charged with an indictable crime (which is similar to a felony-level offense in other states), and instead of 30 days in jail, you can face months or years of prison time.
As a result, it is especially important to hire an experienced New Jersey DUI defense lawyer in this situation. While you may have defenses available, asserting these defenses will require an in-depth understanding of the relevant facts and relevant law. It will also require strong litigation skills and a clear understanding of what it takes to avoid unnecessary consequences at trial.
Criminal Charges for DUI with Injury: Assault By Auto
In New Jersey, causing an accident while driving under the influence is prosecuted as the crime of “assault by auto.” Under Section 2C:12-1.c(1) of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, “[a] person is guilty of assault by auto or vessel when the person drives a vehicle or vessel recklessly and causes either serious bodily injury or bodily injury to another.”
In most cases, assault by auto is a disorderly persons offense. However, the law includes special provisions for cases involving DUI. In DUI cases, assault by auto is minimally a fourth-degree indictable crime. But, the charge can be elevated to a third-degree or even second-degree crime in some cases:
- Fourth-Degree Indictable Crime – DUI assault by auto is a fourth-degree indictable crime when the accident results in bodily injury.
- Third-Degree Indictable Crime – DUI assault by auto is a third-degree indictable crime when the accident results in serious bodily injury or results in bodily injury in a school zone or school crossing.
- Second-Degree Indictable Crime – DUI assault by auto is a second-degree indictable crime when the accident results in serious bodily injury in a school zone or school crossing.
Criminal Penalties for Assault By Auto Involving DUI
The criminal penalties for assault by auto involving DUI vary depending on the level (or “degree”) of the offense charged. Under New Jersey law, the penalty ranges for fourth-degree, third-degree, and second-degree indictable crimes are as follows:
- Fourth-Degree Indictable Crime – Up to a $10,000 fine and 18 months in prison.
- Third-Degree Indictable Crime – Up to a $15,000 fine and three to five years in prison.
- Second-Degree Indictable Crime – Up to a $150,000 fine and five to 10 years in prison.
Defenses to DUI Assault By Auto Charges in New Jersey
Similar to “normal” DUI charges, there are several potential defenses to DUI assault by auto charges in New Jersey. However, also similar to “normal” DUI charges, the specific defenses that are available in any particular case depend on the facts involved.
For example, one option may be to challenge the government’s evidence that you were drunk behind the wheel. However, when pursuing this defense strategy, it is important not to forget that you are still facing charges related to an accident involving injury. This means that even if you weren’t drunk, you could still be convicted of assault by auto based on reckless driving.
Another option may be to challenge the prosecution’s evidence that you caused the accident. Just because you were drunk (if, in fact, you were drunk), this doesn’t necessarily mean that the accident was your fault. However, when asserting this type of defense, you must be careful not to inadvertently admit to driving under the influence.
If the police or prosecutors have violated your constitutional rights, this could also provide a defense. For example, if the police arrested you without probable cause or interrogated you in custody without reading your Miranda rights, the prosecution’s evidence may be inadmissible in court. Or, if prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of your constitutional rights, this could support a motion to dismiss as well.
Timing, Additional Charges and Other Important Considerations
When facing charges for causing an accident while driving drunk, there are several additional important considerations of which you need to be aware. Some examples of these additional considerations include:
- Your First Court Appearance – Your first court appearance will be scheduled soon after the accident. You need to make sure you appear, and you need to know what to say (and what not to say) to the judge in court.
- Consequences of Failure to Appear – If you miss your court date, you can be charged with failure to appear. This can have serious consequences regardless of whether you are guilty of causing an accident while driving under the influence.
- Additional Charges After Drunk Driving Arrests – Along with DUI assault by auto, you could be facing a variety of other charges as well. To defend yourself effectively, you need to make sure you know all of the charges that are on the table.
- Your Right to Counsel – As a defendant in New Jersey’s criminal justice system, you have the right to legal counsel throughout your case. Once you’ve been arrested, hiring an experienced New Jersey DUI defense lawyer is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself.
- The Lifelong Consequences of a Serious Criminal Conviction – DUI assault by auto is a serious criminal offense, and along with fines and prison time, a conviction can have lifelong consequences. To give yourself the best possible chance to avoid these consequences, you will need an experienced New Jersey DUI defense lawyer on your side.
Speak with a New Jersey DUI Defense Lawyer in Confidence
At Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A., we defend individuals accused of DUI, assault by auto, and other serious offenses throughout New Jersey. If you are facing charges, we strongly encourage you to speak with a New Jersey DUI defense lawyer at our offices as soon as possible. To schedule a confidential consultation, call 877-435-6371 or send us your contact information online now.